Stepan Bandera was born to a Catholic family in Galicia, now western Ukraine, in 1909. During his youth and late childhood he was a member of several nationalist organizations, becoming a key member and eventual leader of the Organization for Ukrainian Nationalists, or OUN (Wikipedia).
The OUN, founded in 1929, was an organization of western Ukrainians (living in what was then known as East Galicia) who wanted an “independent and ethnically homogenous Ukraine” (Breitman, 73). They considered Poles to be the primary problem for the Ukrainian state, and went so far as to assassinate Bronsilaw Pieracki, the Polish Interior Minister, in 1934. Among those tried for this crime was Bandera himself, who was sentenced to death – a sentence which was later commuted. He was serving a life sentence in prison at the time of the German invasion in 1939, at which point he escaped, fleeing to Germany with the OUN leadership (Breitman, 73).
While he was in Germany, the organization split into two factions. One, headed by Andrei Melnik (OUN-M), wanted to work with the Germans to gain eventual Ukrainian independence. Bandera’s branch (OUN-B) favored action towards immediate independence, and formed a “militant fascist organization” (Breitman, 74). With the 1941 Nazi incursion into Soviet Ukraine, Bandera and his followers moved into Lviv, declaring a “’sovereign and united’ Ukrainian State” (Breitman, 74). Bandera was quickly arrested by the Germans and held under house arrest for a short time in Berlin before being sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His deputy Mykola Lebed, however, escaped from the Germans and took charge of the now-underground OUN-B, while the OUN-M was given administrative control of Ukraine by the German occupiers (Breitman, 74).
What was left of the OUN-B, or “Banderovtsy”, merged with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). This organization’s mission was the ethnic cleansing of Ukraine – under the logic that Jews were natural supporters of Bolshevism and Poles were the natural enemies of Ukrainians (Breitman, 75). Meanwhile, the OUN-M and the Nazi occupying force began a systematic extermination of Bandera’s supporters to prevent an uprising against the new government (Breitman, 74).
While Bandera was still imprisoned, the Red Army moved into Ukraine. The UPA joined forces with the Nazis to combat them, and in 1944 formed an underground government, the Supreme Ukrainian Liberation Council (UHVR) to stand in opposition to Soviet rule. At this point, Bandera was released from Sachsenhausen, and found himself among the Ukrainian émigré community (Breitman, 76). Since Bandera’s primary supporters at this point were outside of Ukraine, he stayed in Germany building up support and organizing the OUN Foreign Section. It was his goal to establish a dictatorship-in-exile, which would then be transferred onto an independent Ukraine once the fighting was over (Breitman, 77). Lebed and the UHVR opposed this idea, saying that the people who had struggled in Ukraine would not accept Bandera as a ruler, and Bandera responded by expelling them from the OUN-B (Breitman, 78).
The conflict in Ukraine continued, and the Soviets rounded up the remaining UPA members. They even sent several extraction teams into the US-occupied zone in Germany to kidnap Bandera, none of which were able to locate him (Breitman, 80).
Bandera turned to foreign intelligence services to support his activities. His anti-American rhetoric caused the CIA to lend support to his opponents in Ukraine, but he was temporarily supported by the British, who helped him smuggle operatives in Ukraine, as well as the Italians and West Germans (Brietman, 81). While West German intelligence was trying to obtain a US visa for him, so that he could visit Ukrainian émigré communities in the United States, Bandera was assassinated by KGB agent Bogdan Stashinskii in 15 October 1959.
- Richard Breitman and Norman J.W. Goda, Hitler’s Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence, and the Cold War, 19 April 2012, http://www.archives.gov/iwg/reports/hitlers-shadow.pdf
- “Stepan Bandera”, Wikipedia, 19 April 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stepan_Bandera